Miss Illinois is the first beauty queen to promote a platform on women’s reproductive rights!

A few months ago, the Ms. Magazine posted an article about the Miss America Pageant discussing why more women aren’t protesting the pageant on the grounds that it is sexist and that the contestants are brainless beauties who only push Conservative “safe” issues for their platforms like abstinence-only sex-education, cancer prevention, world peace, etc. I’m sure many people recall Miss California Carrie Prejean’s public stance on “traditional marriage” and Miss America 2002 Erika Harold’s platform on abstinence-only-until-marriage. A few blog commentators even asked the question “Where are the pageant queens who would dare to promote a platform on abortion, birth control, and comprehensive sex-education?” That seems to be a question that more people are beginning to ask about pageants and their contestants.

Well believe it or not, there actually IS a beauty pageant queen who is has committed her platform issue to doing just that–preventing the need for abortion through increased access to birth control and comprehensive sex-education: Miss Illinois US Beauties 2010 Jordan Barnstable. Jordan was also the 2009 Ms. Illinois All-American titleholder who went on to become Ms. All-American Beauty 2010. To my knowledge, there have never been any other pageant contestants who have ever taken on a platform issue regarding birth control and comprehensive sex-education, so this would make her the very first pageant queen to do so. In her platform ”Our Bodies, Our Futures”.  Miss Illinois discusses how access and knowledge of birth control is crucial to enabling women to control their own destinies, citing how her own use of birth control enabled her to escape a life of poverty and attend college to earn a Bachelor’s Degree.

“Banning abortion does not stop desperate women from terminating unwanted pregnancies…the key is to prevent abortion from being needed in the first place. As Miss Illinois, I am working to educate the public on common-sense ways to prevent unintended pregnancies and abortion by publicly speaking at appropriate events, writing & publishing articles in various women’s magazines and blogs, and encouraging our government leaders to fund comprehensive sex-education courses in our public schools. My platform is entitled “Our Bodies, Our Futures” because in order for women to be in control of our lives and destinies, we must first be in full control of our own bodies and reproduction. As hard as it may be to believe this in the year 2010, there are still many people out there who wish to keep women from using contraceptives and exercising control over own bodies and fertility, leaving us with no means of controlling when or if we have children and how many. I firmly believe that a woman who does not have agency over her own body and is not allowed to control her own reproduction has neither dignity nor freedom. Being able to decide if and when we will have children puts us in the driver’s seat of our own lives and futures. I grew up living in poverty and knew that I wanted to get a college degree and have a better future for myself. And in order to complete college, I knew that I had to exercise control over my own fertility lest I found myself pregnant and having to drop out of school. And because I had access to the contraceptives I needed, I was able to stay on course and graduate from college. I did have one slip-up, but because I had access to a full range of legal options, I was able to correct my mistake and get myself back on the right path.”

Aside from taking on a platform agenda to increase access to contraception, Miss Illinois is the very first beauty pageant queen to ever come forward and publicly speak about having an abortion. In an effort to help break down the stigma and mystery surrounding abortion, Miss Illinois made the decision to publicly talk about her own abortion experience. When asked about what gave her the courage and determination to publicly talk about such a personal and controversial subject, she stated:

“I weighed this decision very carefully before deciding to use my pageant title to come forward. I was well aware that being the very first pageant queen to ever come forward and talk about having an abortion would put me in a position where I could be subjected to public criticism and possibly even dangerous retaliation. I know that seems dramatic, but there are a lot of people out there who are so opposed to abortion that they won’t hesitate to threaten or harm a woman who has had one. I thought long and hard about it and asked myself, “Are you up for this challenge? Do you think you can handle whatever backlash may occur? Because once you come forward, there is no going back.” I finally decided that the importance of dismantling the stigma and mystery surrounding abortion by coming forward and discussing my own experience in the context of my platform issue outweighed the possible backlash. People avoid talking about abortion out of fear and so many people don’t even know the real facts about it or all of the various reasons why women choose it. In fact, at least one-third of all American women have had this procedure done at least once in their lifetime, and yet no one is talking about it!! And because no one is talking about it, it makes people think that it’s only a ‘certain kind’ of women or a ‘certain small percentage’ of women who have abortions when in reality it’s EVERYONE who has abortions.”

During her reign, Miss Illinois befriended Dr. Leroy Carhart and interviewed him about his work in order to learn more about the women who come to him for help and the circumstances that lead them to need his services. With Dr. Carhart’s permission, she reached out to the women at his clinic in Nebraska by including personal letters to them inside of their patient orientation folders. Dr. Carhart has described her as “a very intelligent young woman who is very knowledgeable and passionate about this subject.”

Beauty pageants and beauty pageant contestants have taken a lot of criticism and ridicule for many years (and usually for good reasons). That’s why it’s so awesome to see a pageant queen daring to use her title for such an awesome cause!! “I could stand here and ramble on about world peace all day, but instead I chose to work on a REAL issue that affects women and men everywhere, every day. Some people warned me that my platform topic would be too controversial and might hurt my title, but I didn’t listen. Somebody needs to address this subject, and it might as well be me.” Even though her reign as Miss Illinois has ended, Jordan says she will continue her platform issue if she wins other pageant titles in the future. To learn more about her and her platform, visit her website at www.miss-illinois.com

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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